Remember, the Social Security Administration is an insurance company, and Congress is its Board of Directors. Insurance companies make ends meet by increasing premium income and reducing claims paid. Not wanting to raise premiums in the current political environment, congressional focus has turned to an effort to balance the trust fund by reducing claims paid. You can’t very well deny workers their retirement pensions by disputing their ages, so the disability insurance program becomes the available target.

Republican Congressmen may not understand constitutional due process, but they sure know about the strategy the liability insurance industry successfully pursued in state legislatures to get laws enacted to suppress insurance claims. In fact, two decades ago Karl Rove was a principal architect of the strategy known as tort reform.

Momentum for a tort reform movement is created like this:

  • You need a devil for the crusade. Begin demonizing those with the temerity to file insurance claims. Because many of those you attack will be your own insurance policyholders – i.e. your own customers – establish separation and create an “us vs. them” dynamic. Make accusations of outlandish fraud committed by policyholders who file claims, backed by real or fabricated anecdotal evidence (truth doesn’t really matter in tort reform). Assert that you are in fact protecting all policyholders by attacking policyholders who file claims. Make the label of fraud and cheater stick to claimants through repetition.
  • Line up politicians who will benefit by joining the cause (generally those elected by government-haters). Provide them with the messaging, and turn them loose on the voters with their talking points.
  • Co-opt the judges. Exert influence over persons who are supposed to be impartial adjudicators of insurance claims. In states where judges are elected, give generously. Where they are appointed, use legislators to get a finger on the scales of justice through appointment of those with a like-minded political philosophy. Make it clear that the adjudicator’s individual prosperity will depend on making the “right” decisions.
  • Shoot the messengers. Attack the integrity of those who advocate for the claims of policyholders in courts of law. Lawyers make easy targets.
  • Take your show to the media. The press wants a story that shocks and enrages. Government fraud and waste is sure-fire. Deliver fully developed anecdotes that identify the villains, along with “experts” who will support prophesies of doom with statistics that are rich in truthiness. You will need to ensure that TV “journalists” get prearranged interviews with scripts. 60 Minutes is usually a good bet for this kind of thing. Print journalists can be more effective if you write their copy for them.
  • Work the message until it becomes the truth.

We’ll explore how tort reform tactics are playing out in the Social Security disability insurance program in future posts.